Tools and techniques for brainstorming and tracking accomplishments

Social Share Toolbar

Tools and techniques for brainstorming and tracking accomplishments

“When you don’t keep a log of your accomplishments,” writes Peggy Klaus, “you’re more apt to forget the specifics that speak volumes about your value.” If you’re ready to begin mining for your accomplishments, you’ll find here an array of methods and means for doing so. Many of these tools straddle two purposes; some are merely repositories for you to record the accomplishments you’ve brainstormed through your own devices. Others are tools that assist with the brainstorming. Some provide both functions. You’ll want to use what you’re most comfortable with, and you may find that using multiple tools in combination works best for you.

Don’t decide which tool to use until you’ve reviewed a collection of more than 200 prompts to help you identify accomplishments. That content is conceived as a tool in itself to prompt you to recall your successes; you may want to combine its prompting technique with one or more of the recording tools in this chapter.

The idea is to begin generating raw data that you will later massage into powerful descriptions of your accomplishments. For now, this information will begin to open your eyes to how accomplished you are. “Many people discount what they do,” says consultant Liz Sumner, “but it’s harder to do so with all that data staring you in the face.”

Many people begin to achieve success in this process by taking a half a day to a full day of quiet time to brainstorm and reflect on accomplishments. Then they can begin to add to those baseline accomplishments by tracking new achievements regularly, whether daily, weekly, or at a frequency that works for the individual.

 

Journaling techniques.

Calendar or Daytimer: I still have pages from desk-pad (“blotter” style) calendars with notes of all my work project deadlines and meetings, which serve as memory prompts for accomplishments. I liked this style of calendar when I had office jobs because it was right in front of me where I could see it at all times. I didn’t have to open up a notebook- style calendar to jot down notes. To better remember and translate deadlines and meetings into achievements, I could have gone even further by jotting down actual accomplishments on these calendars, as Denise P. Kalm of DPK Coaching notes: “The trick is to note [accomplishments] down every day that you have one in whatever method makes sense,” Kalm says. “But after you have a few noted, go back and amend them. Note the business value of what you have done. A month or year later, you may not remember that, and the raw accomplishment may not mean much then.” Whatever style of calendar works for you – desk pad, wall calendar, page-a-day, or a notebook style such as a Daytimer, you can use it to record accomplishments.

Work/job diary. A diary of your work life, which can be kept in any sort of journal, blank book, composition book, or notebook, is an effective venue for recording and reflecting on accomplishments. Researchers Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer had their study participants spend just 5-10 minutes a day keeping a work diary. Not only did participants track their progress, but many gained “a new perspective on themselves as professionals and what they needed to improve.” For the study participants, reflection on progress seemed to be a highly positive aspect of keeping the diaries. Amabile referenced a former student who enjoyed using Levenger’s 5-Year Diary (http://tinyurl.com/ck4khzq). Each page in the diary represents a day of the year, with space to write a short entry over five years. An added advantage is the ability to look at what you accomplished on the same day up to five years ago.

Journaling daily accomplishments has other benefits. “Focusing on what we have done – the wins – in our day rejuvenates,” Glen Stansberry writes. “Going to bed looking at what was accomplished can be a massive motivator to help start the next day, and can keep us from closing the day on a sour note.”

 

“One thing that I recommend to all of my clients,” writes Liz Handlin in a blog post, “is to keep a diary or journal about what is going on at work. Did your boss tell you what a great job you are doing? Write it down. Were you just named Employee of the Month? Write it down. Date each entry in your journal and keep your records at home rather than at work.”

You can set aside a few minutes a day for this journaling, perhaps during your lunch hour, on your commute home from work, right after you get home, or before you go to bed.

If “work diary” or “job diary” sound dull to you, call it whatever you want – such as Results Journal, Victory Journal, Success Diary, or Journal of Awesomeness, as “George P.H.” of The Man-Up Blog calls it. “You’ll be amazed at how much better focusing on your positive achievements makes you feel! And once you start reinforcing good choices by writing them down, your subconscious will encourage you to make them more often.”

Write case studies about your projects. Essentially, a case study is a story with added details and analysis. You describe in detail the problem your organization faced that motivated the project, the action you took to resolve the problem, and your results. If you were writing a case study about an external situation in which you were not involved (say, for a class assignment), you would interview the people involved about how the problem developed, how they feel about it, and so forth. Since you were in the thick of it, you don’t need to interview others, although you could. After telling the problem –> action –> result story of the project in detail, your analysis could include what you learned from it, what you would do differently if faced with the same situation again, why you felt the project succeeded.

 

Techniques using Web apps, software, and cloud apps

Consider a spreadsheet. “I use an Excel spreadsheet,” says Darlene Zambruski. With a spreadsheet, she notes, “you can sort info more quickly, especially when you need it for a performance review or if you’re refreshing your resume for a new job search.”

 

Try iDoneThis.com. iDoneThis is an online app (https://idonethis.com) that, according its Website, “makes it easy to track and celebrate the progress that you make at work every day.” The service emails you at day’s end to ask, “What’d you get done today?” After you reply, you can go to your page on the site and see a calendar. You can click on any date and see that day’s accomplishments. The next day’s email also contains the previous day’s accomplishments. You can export an accomplishments file that you can open in Google Spreadsheets, Microsoft Excel, and as a plain text file. The service is free for individuals.

Experiment with online or mobile-device journaling apps. You can find tons of journaling and diary apps, both Web-based and for mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Most are free or have a free version. Search terms to try include: “journaling app,” “journaling app iphone,” “journaling app Android.” Just a few examples:

  • 28Daily: http://280daily.com: Summarize your day in 280 characters.
  • Day One: http://dayoneapp.com: Helps users remember, record and track their lives in a simple way. For Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
  • Penzu: http://penzu.com: An online diary and personal journal that is focused on privacy.

Articles that offer lists of journaling apps: https://zapier.com/blog/best-journaling-apps/ and https://lifehacker.com/the-best-apps-journaling-for-every-type-of-journaling-1828858051

Use a cloud-based app, such as Evernote. Evernote (http://evernote.com) touts the ability for users to “have instant access to their memories.” Users can type notes, to-dos, and clip entire Web pages and save all the links and contents. They can also snap photos of anything from business cards to whiteboards to wine labels, write handwritten notes in digital ink, record audio clips. The variety of media and content that can be integrated into an Evernote produced, as well as see what people are saying about you in reviews and comments.

You can find apps similar to Evernote at http://tinyurl.com/8hajf97 and http://tinyurl.com/93dq6q2.

Voice-record your accomplishments. Most mobile devices enable you to record voice memos. This technique provides a quick and easy way to capture your achievements as they happen. Just remember that transcribing them into written form is very time consuming. But wait … you can get free voice-recognition apps, such as Dragon for the iPad, that do the transcribing for you. Conduct a search for “voice recognition” on your mobile device.

Set up a Google search alert on your name: This technique should supplement, not substitute, for other brainstorming and tracking techniques. If you have any kind of significant online presence – in articles, videos, podcasts, blog posts, comments, for example – your name will come up in a Google search. If you set up an alert (http://www.google.com/alerts), you may be reminded of forgotten content.

 

Integrate JibberJobber’s Job Journal feature. JibberJobber (http://www.jibberjobber.com/) is an online personal relationship manager that helps users keep track of job searches, networking contacts, and other career-management information. The Job Journal feature enables users to record accomplishments. Users can list up to 25 accomplishments using the free level of JibberJobber, more in the paid version (see pricing levels at http://www.jibberjobber.com/pricing.php).

 

Low-tech techniques.

List everything you’ve done in each job. Paula Sanders of Hunt4Staff.com suggests thinking about the tasks or instances where something has gone well, what skills you utilized, what the outcomes were, and whether those outcomes were over and above what was expected of you within the role. Also list what you’ve done through personal interests and hobbies. “An individual who runs a kids club, Brownies or Scouts group, for example,” Sanders says. “generally will [forget to list] the skills and accomplishments in this part of their life, but these are just as important [as those listed for jobs]!”

Keep physical evidence and artifacts of your accomplishments in a container. Whether a file folder, a box, or portfolio, you can store photos, memos, letters, certificates, and any other physical objects that will help you remember your achievements. Some of these artifacts can then be transferred to a portfolio or “Brag Book” that you can use to present your accomplishments to others. “I encourage my clients to create an “Accomplishment” file in their desk drawer,” notes Career Coach Mary Jeanne Vincent, “and drop something in it every week. When it is time to update their resume or prepare for their annual performance evaluation, they can pull out the file and remember all of the achievements they have forgotten. Not everything will be a pearl of wisdom, but there will be plenty of achievements to highlight.”

 

In your container full of artifacts tied to your accomplishments, you can keep letters and notes about your performance from supervisors, colleagues, customers, and vendors; performance reviews; sales ranking reports; your college transcript; letters of recommendation; certificates from training courses; photos of yourself working on various projects or showing deliverables; samples of your work; award certificates, and more.

Create a Brag Book or Portfolio. This technique takes those containers full of evidence of your achievements a step further. Brag Books and portfolios are physical manifestations of your accomplishments. “Brag Books” are commonly used in the sales field, especially pharmaceutical sales. They are binders that aspiring sales reps take to job interviews, and they are filled with tangible evidence of achievements. A portfolio is virtually the same thing as a Brag Book; it, too, is used in job interviews by job-seekers in any field to illustrate accomplishments. Although these binders are typically used to communicate about accomplishments, they can also be used as tools to help brainstorm and track accomplishments. Research I conducted with my partner revealed that individuals gain confidence from simply preparing the portfolio or Brag Book. By organizing your artifacts in your binder, you will refresh your memory about your accomplishments and gain confidence as you review all the evidence of your success.

 

Keep a “Best Experiences” notebook. This technique, suggested by the Dependable Strengths Articulation Process (http://www.dependablestrengths.org/), begins with writing down your best experiences every week – things you enjoyed doing, felt you did well, and were proud of. After a month of recording these experiences, choose those you felt were the Best Experiences. Describe them in greater detail, with outcomes. Then, every quarter, choose two or more top experiences of the quarter. At the end of a year, review your top quarterly experiences. Reflect on how they could have been changed or improved. Set goals for the next year based on what you’ve learned.

Utilize Allan Hay’s Memory Mining technique.
In his book,
Memory Mining, Allan Hay recommends using job descriptions as jumping-off places for accomplishments discovery. To deploy this technique, find a job posting that contains a detailed job description for a position that typifies what you seek. Read the description over carefully, perhaps several times. Identify the job functions listed in the posting. Break each function into smaller elements, essentially by picking out all nouns and noun phrases. Now, brainstorm your accomplishments that exemplify how well you can perform each function. Hay provides a detailed list of questions to ask yourself about each function, but for our purposes here, focus on accomplishments.

 

Try mind-mapping. Describing mind-mapping as a great tool for dealing with a vast amount of interrelated information, my former partner, Dr. Randall S. Hansen, defines mind-mapping this way in our book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills: “Mind maps allow you to see … the way in which the concepts relate to one another. Mind maps are created around a central word, idea, or theme. From this central word, you create branches to other major concepts related to the central word. From there, you continue to create branches from every word or concept you add to the map – and keep doing so until you have all the material on your map. By focusing on key concepts that you discover and define, and then looking for branches and connections among all the concepts, you are mapping knowledge in a way that will help you better understand and remember the information. This approach is sometimes referred to as concept mapping.” While mind-mapping can be quite informal and hand-drawn, you can also find mind-mapping software, much of it at no cost. Find a huge listing of mind-mapping software, tools, and information at “99 Mind Mapping Resources, Tools, and Tips” (http://tinyurl.com/yvleul). See also “What is Mind Mapping? (and How to Get Started Immediately)” (http://tinyurl.com/5agu9o).

 

Construct status reports. Many organizations require workers to keep regular status reports, usually weekly or monthly. But you can track your accomplishments on your own in a status-report format even if your organization doesn’t require them. One option is to conduct a search of “status report template” online. Because most forms, however, are task-oriented rather than results- oriented, you may want to develop your own form.

Techniques that integrate feedback from others.

Query your colleagues. “Ask colleagues and especially past supervisors what they see as your top accomplishments,” advises Mary E. Hayward, principal at Career Options. “It is often difficult for us to remember and claim our accomplishments and strengths, but it is much easier for others to do so.” Consider also talking to people with whom you’ve served as a volunteer or any capacity in which you’ve made meaningful contributions.

Questions that Vickie Elmer, a freelance writer who writes about career and consumer issues and blogs at WorkingKind.com, suggests can be posed to current and former colleagues include: “What did I accomplish when we worked together?” “What did I lead/create/ develop that had a big impact on you and on our employer?” Resume writer Laura Smith-Proulx suggests asking former supervisors, “What were the key reasons for [my] past promotions?”

“I also suggest that [clients] keep track of others who may have helped with each activity,” says Todd Rhoad, director of BT Consulting, an Atlanta career-consulting firm. “We also like to track activities that impact teams, divisions, and companies.”

 

New grads and other young people may especially benefit from asking others about what successes they observed, notes author Rick Gillis. Ask professors, coaches, advisers, and others about what impact you had in the capacity in which they knew you and how you made a difference.

Show colleagues and former bosses your resume. Do they feel it accurately reflects your contributions?

Also consider asking family members, including your spouse. In most cases they don’t work with you, but chances are they are the people you are most likely to boast to about your successes. If you’re having difficulty dredging accomplishments out of your memory, family members may recall wins you’ve told them about.

You may also find yourself remembering other accomplishments when those around you start giving you input.

Enlist a partner to help you “drill down.” To truly get at the meat of your accomplishments – the results that distinguish you, recruit a spouse, friend, colleague, or family member to ask you questions. Your current resume or a list of prompts are good starting places. Your partner will not only ask you about what you did in each job, but also what it meant, what resulted, why it mattered, and how it distinguished you. In other words, he or she will ask “so what?” about each item.

~~~

Get more feedback from employers, a sidebar by Kiana L. Wilson, PHR, GCDF, Tampa, FL:
Workers must take the initiative to own and cultivate this process. They can start by doing the leg work to make this technique simple for those who may be involved. They should put together a list that outlines the specific criteria for the feedback they seek (i.e., what did I do especially well during this task? What lessons learned should I be aware of and take away from this task? What areas, if any, would you suggest that I further strengthen?). This preparation takes the guesswork out of the process, and people are more likely to participate.

Next, workers should be direct with their co-workers, manager, clients , and others by asking for continuous feedback and explaining why it’s important and how they plan to utilize the information. It is also a good idea at this point for workers to gather initial thoughts and suggestions from these individuals to ensure the process is well received.

 

Finally, workers should ensure that they provide regular updates on their progress to those that have provided feedback. This check-in will let these individuals know that their time and feedback is valued and workers have taken steps to utilize this information in the manner that was originally communicated.

In the beginning, the brunt of this process will fall on the worker to ensure that he or she is continuously receiving this feedback. However, if cultivated correctly, feedback will start to become a normal workplace practice.

~~~

Mining documents, including e- documents, for accomplishments.

Annual performance reviews. Because a significant part of many performances reviews includes a discussion of your performance against the goals your employer set for you, the paperwork you get at the end of a performance evaluation can help you identify achievements you may have overlooked. Your review document may also detail your most significant accomplishments and their impact on the organization.

Emails. Recruiter Todd Rogers suggests “going as far back in your “sent” and “deleted” emails as possible and scrolling forward in time, paying attention to the subject lines as you scroll.” When you see an email that is possibly affiliated with an accomplishment, he says, flag that email for further reading. “After you’ve assembled a year or so of such emails, start to go through them and where applicable, write a one- sentence summary of what you did that was exceptional.” For the future, start an email folder of accomplishments so you don’t have to sift through as many emails.

 

Recommendation/referral letters from current/previous employers: These letters actually have limited value when presented to an external audience, such as prospective employers; they aren’t considered very credible since no one who would write such a letter about you would say anything negative. But they can be valuable in helping you brainstorm and track your accomplishments, especially as seen through the eyes of others. Consider also letters from customers, clients, vendors, and co-workers.

Your resume. After you’ve read this content, you’ll probably want to beef up your resume with accomplishments, but before you do that, use the document as a tool to prompt reflection and brainstorming on your accomplishments. Review each item on your resume and think about the extent to which it could be better stated as an accomplishment. Also consider additional accomplishments you may have had in each job or educational experience.